What Actually Happens To Your Body Once You Have Stopped Smoking?

A timeline of how your body reacts to the lack of nicotine and tar entering its system.

At the Foxhall Dental Practice in Ipswich, we have long encouraged our patients to stop smoking.

Aside from a reduced amount of coughing coming from our waiting room, the benefits of not smoking are not just in better breathing and better health, but, as we’ve addressed before, in a reduction in tooth staining as well as less chance of gum disease and oral cancers.

It should go without saying that stopping smoking alone will not entirely resolve these problems, and ongoing dental care at our Ipswich practice is essential. By cutting out those cigarettes and other tobacco based products though, you will have made a significant start on the way to better oral and general health.

Rather than discuss oral cancers and gum disease this time, we thought that it would be interesting to take a look at the timeline of what actually happens to your body when you quit smoking. We know that many people struggle to quit, and understanding the process of what happens to your body may be helpful.

So .. you have finally stubbed out your last ever cigarette (hopefully) … and the clock starts ticking.

Twenty minutes

Yes, even just twenty minutes after your last cigarette, changes start to happen in your body. Any smoker will tell you that their cigarette gives them a ‘lift’. This is because nicotine is a stimulant, and one which raises both heart rate and blood pressure. Within twenty minutes, your body will start to recover as the effect of the stimulant wears off and your heart rate and BP return to normal.

Eight hours

This is an unpleasant time for many people who quit as it is around the time when those cravings really start to kick in and you may find yourself giving in and lighting another cigarette for relief. When you stop smoking, try to arrange it so that you will be doing something to take your mind of it at this time.

Your first day without a cigarette

If you have ever seen a film where an addict is withdrawing from a drug, you will know that it can be very unpleasant. What too few people recognise is that nicotine is also a drug, and in fact a powerful one that some argue is more addictive than heroin. After one day, this is likely to be a time when you really start to struggle as your body craves a ‘nicotine fix’. Try to keep yourself occupied at this time, and more importantly, remember that, whilst it is unpleasant, this feeling will pass.

The first week

After a few days, your body will have gotten rid of most of the nicotine in your system. This can be a strange feeling and one that you may not have experienced for many years. The ‘edginess’ caused by nicotine can leave a sort of ‘emptiness’ when it is no longer there. This is just a part of the transition to a healthier body though. If you are concerned about this feeling, you may wish to use nicotine patches etc to ease you into it more gradually, rather than go ‘cold turkey’.

At this stage though, you will also start to feel some of the benefits. Your food will start to taste better and your clothes smell fresher too. You will also be over the worst of the withdrawal from smoking and there should be no physical desire to start again. You will still need some willpower though, as smoking is a habit that many of us carry out at certain times, such as after a meal. These habits can soon come back if you aren’t careful. Support groups may be able to help you with this.

A fortnight

This is where the dental benefits start to return. Blood flow to the gums returns to more or less normal, enabling infections to be fought off more easily. With good care, including brushing, flossing and seeing the Foxhall Dental Practice hygienist, you should now find it much easier to keep gum disease under control. Incidentally, don’t worry if you are coughing quite a bit at this stage; this is just your body working to expel tar and other substances from your lungs.

One month

Congratulations. Studies have shown that ex smokers who go without for a month are five times more likely to remain non smokers for the rest of their lives.

A few months later

After a few months of not smoking, your risk of a heart attack will have reduced and you will probably have noticed that your breathing is now much better and you don’t wheeze as you climb a set of stairs. You may also find that you actually enjoy walking longer distances now, rather than dreading them. Your coughing should more or less have subsided altogether by now. If you do still have a bad cough, it is best to get this checked out by your GP.

One year

At this stage, your risk of having a heart attack or stroke has greatly reduced and you will be 50% less likely to have either of these happen to you. Although not the sole cause, smoking is one of the contributing factors to diabetes too and your risk of this will be starting to gradually reduce. Once you have reached the five year stage, your risk is the same as someone who has never smoked.

Ten years

Lung cancer is one of the biggest killers for smokers. After ten years, you are at 50% of the risk of this disease, compared to someone who continues to smoke. Other cancers, including oral, or mouth, cancer risks are also reduced significantly. After ten years, and onwards, your risk of a heart attack are the same as a non smoker. You have finally made it.

Although it can be a challenge to stop smoking, nearly everyone who does so will say that it was definitely worth it. Not only will you be healthier, but you also stand a much better chance of seeing your grandchildren grow up. From a dental perspective, your oral health will be much better and teeth staining less of a problem. One ‘trick’ that we sometimes suggest for those who have stopped smoking, is to use the money you have saved to have a teeth whitening procedure which will reduce any staining on your teeth. This can help to give you a real incentive not to start smoking again.

To anyone who has pledged to stop smoking as a new year resolution, we hope that you are still going strong. If you would like to try our ‘trick’ to assist you on your way, you can arrange to have a teeth whitening procedure at our Ipswich practice by calling us on 01473 258396.